In my mind I see Ellen as she sat that day on the screened-in porch. Her book signing materials surrounded her, and her time-speckled hands rested together peacefully before her on the table. She had put on her “thank-you-for-buying-my-book smile, but I noticed by the lines around her mouth that she was feeling stiff and tired.
I walked up to her, and she glanced up respectfully as I approached.
“Thank you for coming,” I said simply.
She returned my friendly smile, and then her eyes lit up. “I remember your grandparents!” she exclaimed.
“Yes. They lived on the next farm over,” I turned and pointed toward the back yard. “That way.”
She nodded vigorously. “Yes, they hosted a few hayrides when I was younger. You were just a little girl, but those freckles,” she laughed. “They can’t be disguised, can they?” Her face had gone from pale to rosy, and I asked if she minded if I sat with her for a bit.
“Please, do.” She helped pull a metal folding chair to her side behind the table and glanced around quickly to see if anyone else was approaching us.
“I like coming home, but it causes me some heartache every time,” she said suddenly.
“I didn’t know that, Ellen.”
She looked toward the big salon as the visitors roaming through her childhood home touched the furnishings and examined the art work. The fame of her Pulitzer-prize-winning father still brought the tourists by the droves to his Malabar Farm.
“Your dad was a special man,” I said.
Her smile grew wistful. “Yes, but without this house filled with my parents or my friends, it’s sad and lonely to come here.” She picked up her book and tilted the cover for me to see the picture. “This is really my home now. This scene…right here…that’s the view I have from thefazenda. The land and the farmers and the Amazon forests and flat fields of Brazil have become my Malabar.” She glanced at the wide expanse of green yard right outside our little room. “This is the farm of my youth and the ideals of my father, but his real legacy is what I’ve achieved on my own at Fazenda Pau d’ Alho. It’s beautiful and rich, and the variety of people astound me sometimes still.”
“I read in the paper that you and your husband have spent many years trying to get the framers there to contour plow.” I laughed. “That would make your dad happy!” She grinned back at me and patted my hand.
“You don’t know the half of it. Dad had farmers with small hills to contend with, but the farmers in Brazil have large mountainous areas to farm, and having them plow over the tops, instead of around the hillsides, has stripped their lands of topsoil beyond repair. And in the rainy seasons, the good soil pours off the hillsides in sheets, using the paths of the plow like roadways to the streams.” She shook her head. “It took Carlos and me years of their seeing the results of our own good crops before many of them would believe it makes a difference.” She sighed. “In that, Dad and I shared a common struggle. But his days of convincing the dustbowl farmers to stop ruining their own lands are far in the past.” She turned her blue eyes to me, and a look of sorrow filled them. “I still miss him. I wish he had lived to see our success at the fazenda.”
“He’d have loved to see you carry on his work of sustainable farming, Ellen. And besides, just the fun of having him around down there in the Amazon would have been priceless!”
She laughed. “Oh my! I can only imagine what he would have done with a jeep on those hills.” We shared a grin, and then I noticed that a line was forming in front of the table. As I stood to leave, she caught my arm, and, quickly opening a book, she signed it and handed it to me. “I’ve enjoyed our chat. If you ever get to Brazil…”
“I’ll be sure to look you up,” I finished.
I left her sitting among the fragrance of the flowering vines on the patio and turned her book over in my hands. Her love of her home, her fazenda, was apparent, even in the title, and I knew her dad would be proud.
Fazenda: is a Portuguese word for 'farm', but is sometimes used in the English language for the coffee estates that spread within the interior of Brazil. (Wikipedia)
Author’s Note: This story is based upon a conversation I had with Ellen Bromfield Geld when she visited her parent’s home in the Midwest. She is the daughter of the late Pulitzer-prize winning author, Louis Bromfield. His farm, Malabar, is now a State Park near my hometown and, as a writer, it is my joy and privilege to visit this place. I never fail to be inspired by his works or his life-long passion for the sustainable farm. (Fun fact: Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart were married at Malabar farm.) His daughter spent her adult years in Brazil, but the legacy of her father traveled with her. For more information about this remarkable pair of writers, go to the Malabar Farm State Park website or google Louis Bromfield and Ellen Bromfield Geld.
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